The Bear Prince

Otto Sutermeister ; Switzerland.

A merchant once wanted to go to market. He asked his three daughters what he should bring home for them.

The oldest one said, "I would like pearls and precious stones."

"You can buy a sky-blue dress for me," said the middle one.

But the youngest one said, "Nothing in the world would be dearer to me than a grape."

Once at the market, the merchant saw as many pearls and precious stones as he could possibly want. And he soon purchased a sky-blue dress as well. But as for a grape, he could not find one anywhere at the market. This saddened him greatly, because he loved his youngest daughter most of all.

Buried thus in his thoughts, he was making his way toward home when a little dwarf stepped before him. He asked, "Why are you so sad?"

"Oh," answered the merchant, "I was supposed to bring home a grape for my youngest daughter, but I was not able to find one anywhere at the market."

The dwarf said, "Just take a few steps into that meadow down there, and you will come to a large vineyard. A white bear will be there. He will growl fiercely when you approach, but don't let that frighten you. You'll get a grape after all."

So the merchant went down into the meadow, and it happened just as the dwarf had said. A white bear was keeping guard at the vineyard, and he growled at the merchant when he was still a long way off.

"What do you want here?"

"Be so good," said the merchant, "and let me take a grape for my youngest daughter, just a single one."

"You cannot have one," said the bear, "unless you promise to give me that which will first greet you upon your arrival home."

The merchant did not think long about this before accepting the bear's terms. Then he was permitted to take a grape, and he happily made his way toward home.

Upon his arrival home, the youngest daughter ran out to meet him, for she -- more than anyone else -- had missed him, and she could hardly wait to see him. Seeing the grape in his hand, she threw her arms around his neck and could scarcely contain herself for joy.

But the father was overcome with sorrow, and he could not tell anyone why. Every day he expected the white bear to come and demand from him his dearest child.

When exactly one year had passed since he taken the grape from the vineyard, the bear did indeed trot up, confronted the merchant, and said, "Now give me that which first greeted you upon your arrival home, or I'll eat you."

The merchant had not lost all of his senses, and he said, "Take my dog. He jumped right out the door when he saw me coming."

But the bear began to growl loudly and said, "He is not the right one. If you don't keep your promise, I'll eat you."

Then the merchant said, "So just take the apple tree in front of the house. That was the first thing that I met."

But the bear growled even stronger and said, "That is not the right one. If you don't keep your promise immediately, I'll eat you."

Nothing more would help. The merchant had to surrender his youngest daughter. When she came out, a coach drove up. The bear led her inside, sat down next to her, and away they went.

After a while the coach stopped in the courtyard of a castle, and the bear led the daughter into the castle and welcomed her. This was his home, he said, and from now on she would be his wife. He gave her everything that her heart could desire, so that with time it no longer occurred to her that her husband was a bear. There were just two things that seemed strange to her: Why did the bear insist on having no lights at nighttime, and why did he always feel so cold?

After she had been with him for some time he asked her, "Do you know how long you have been here?"

"No," she said, "I haven't been thinking about time at all."

"All the better," said the bear. "It's been exactly one year. Get ready for a journey, for we must visit your father once again."

She did so with great joy, and after arriving at her father's she told him all about her life in the castle. Afterward, when she was taking leave from him, he secretly gave her some matches that the bear was not supposed to see. But the bear did see them, and he growled angrily, "Stop that, or I'll eat you."

Then he took his wife back to the castle, and they lived there together as before.

Some time later the bear said, "Do you know how long you have been here?"

"No," she said, "I don't notice the time."

"All the better," said the bear. "You have been here exactly two years. Get ready for a journey. It is time for us to visit your father once again."

She did it once again, and everything happened as the first time. But when she visited her father the third time, the bear failed to see that her father secretly gave her some matches. After arriving back at the castle, she could hardly wait for night to come when the bear was sleeping next to her in bed. Silently she struck a light and was startled with amazement and joy, for next to her was lying a handsome youth with a golden crown on his head.

He smiled at her and said, "Many thanks for redeeming me. You were the wife of an enchanted prince. Now we can celebrate our wedding properly, for now I am the king of this land." With that the entire castle came alive. Servants and attendants came from all sides, wishing good luck to the king and the queen.